Thursday, November 25, 2010


“Don’t go, Didi,” they tell. “Full Indian you are looking. So nice. Stay. Christmas you come with us only.”

“I know,” I tell them, half groaning from the thought of tearing myself away. In my tone of voice they can hear the “but….”

“No, Didi,” they say. “Don’t go.”

It would be so easy to stay in India. My heart is at home. I am loved, welcomed. I will be missed. I would be perfectly content to permanently trade my blue jeans for a sari swishing lightly around my ankles. I could even face rice and chapatti for my daily sustenance for years to come and be satisfied. The Indians, they don’t ask me if I am coming back; they ask me when. I have to tell them I don’t know.

One guy tells me, “You should get Indian boyfriend.”

“No,” I say. “Never even in US have I had.”

“Yeah,” he say, “While in India you should try something new. I know one guy who is looking wife. When shall I tell him you are free to talk?”

He is only teasing, but others are serious. They tell next year I should come back, only I should come as two. The village women in the slums are even more persistent. They say I should come back with baby. [Aside: India is not the place I would come if I were a woman discontent with my singleness because Indians have a tendency of reminding you of this fact on a daily basis.]

It would actually be very easy for me to marry in India. One: I have white skin. Two: I wouldn’t have to wait for someone to fall in love and work up the guts to ask me out. Simply I could say I was ready and ten different people would jump to arrange. Now, for all of you who just panicked, don’t worry. Marrying an Indian man is the furthest thing from my mind and my heart at this moment; marriage to a man of any color is still far from my aspirations. But I am saying it would be quite easy.

I wonder about staying, but right now I am only feeling the tug of human hearts, not the whispering of the Spirit, urging me to settle. My flesh could choose this path quite easily. But no matter whether I go or stay, one half of the world will be upset with me. My only comfort is that neither India nor the US is ultimately my home. Keeping my thoughts raised toward heaven is the only way I can stand to say good-bye.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Thanksgiving in India means sharing the evening with Indian friends. They’ll make curry. I’ll make mashed potatoes. It means I rise in the morning, like any other morning, and choose to clothe myself with a heart of gratitude. I sit on the roof and whisper to God of all the ways I am awed by his goodness, the ways India has changed me. I have much for which to give thanks.

Clean water
Dusty feet
Companions in a journey
Women who’s hearts smile welcome in the slums
Children’s laughter
Covered heads bowed in prayer
Rice and curry
Cooling breeze
Painted sunsets
A way prepared
Protected time
A home away from home
Bus rides
In all things provision of what is good

In some respects the day of Thanksgiving seems trivial from where my heart is standing. For so many months God has kept me a student of his goodness, shaping gratitude within my heart. Of course I will rise and give thanks today… and tomorrow, and the day after. I shouldn’t need a holiday to remind me. Yet, today my heart travels fondly towards home, to think of those I miss and love gathered together around well-prepared meals and stoked fires. And I pause especially long to wonder at God’s grace in each of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Beginning of an Ending

The closer I come to leaving India the less I can manage to write. This is partially because so many thoughts are churning inside of me I never know where to start writing and partially because I’m spending time with so many people my writing is slipping to the back burner. But for two more weeks I think it can wait. I suspect there are some things I won’t be able to understand or write about until after I gain a bit of distance and look back at the whole picture (or as much of the picture my finite mind can wrap its neuronic tendrils about). So I guess I’m looking forward to bringing India home with me to process and fill my stories.

Nearly every day now I embrace tears, or at least nestle up to the edge of them. I cry because I know leaving India will be hard, because I don’t know how to say goodbye. But more often I cry because the goodness of God is a powerful force that overwhelms my heart. Either way, they are good tears. If leaving India breaks my heart, it means that perhaps I did something right, that my heart found something beautiful. Falling in love always invites the factor of pain, but love is always worth pain. No matter how much my heart may ache when I board that plane in two weeks, I will never look back on this time with regret. I will stand in awe that God chose to give me this season, that he allowed India to be my potter’s wheel and his hands to do the shaping.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wordless Language

It occurs to me that words are not necessary to communicate.

I say this fully aware of my identity as a writer. Words are my medium, yet I am just now pausing to recognize how minimally I have used them in the last three months. I was walking to my temporary Indian home this evening when I overtook a mother with her son on the street. She recognized me and tried to speak with me but didn’t know English. With clipped English phrases and my recognition of one or two Telugu words we blundered through the understanding that she was asking where I was going and was concerned that I was traveling by foot while I assured her I was stopping just up the road. She initiated another question but that was as far as we could get. I smiled, bobbled my head, said sorry, and moved on.

Only after our interaction did it strike me how normal it feels for me not to be understood. The only foreign language I’ve managed to learn to speak is Indian English as opposed to American English, so the entire laboring class of India cannot understand me. This means my interactions in the slums and on the streets rely heavily upon body language and tone of voice rather than words. I sit, laugh, smile, touch. Sometimes we use our hands to develop a type of sign language. So many women will come and ask me with their hands for me to pray. I won’t always know what for, but we cover our heads, I touch their shoulders, and we pray. Again, they won’t understand, but the mere act of saying words to a God who is bigger than us both speaks something beyond audible language.

So the languages of Indian speak something different to me than to an Indian. I won’t comprehend, but their rhythms and cadences filter mysteriously into my soul. Lacking fluency does have its benefits. I can listen to language as a cacophonous whole rather than being hung up by the small details. My attention isn’t snagged by what the neighbor on the next balcony is yelling at her son, the promotional calls of the street vendors, the disagreements of two co-workers. My understanding comes in tones rather than phrases. I’m free to walk in and out of conversations. I can listen, or I can tune them out. When I reach home, I think I will find it irritating to be able to understand every casual conversation of every stranger in the supermarket, the airport, the doctor’s office. It will catch me off guard.

I love words and there are many moments when I do wish I could speak in the Indians’ mother tongue; however, God works beyond our limited communication. Every morning I find myself praying that my eyes, my hands, my feet will shine with a hopeful light that is clearer than any poetical verse or story I could ever compose with words.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Common Strands

When you stay long enough in one place, no matter how foreign the country when you arrive, life happens. Coming and visiting for only a week or two or three, everything remains strange and new. Your senses and mind are constantly stimulated. But the longer I stay in India, the more I wear familiar tracks through the culture, the more the commonness of the human heart begins to show through. Underneath the food, the clothes, methods of bathing, wearing hair, or washing laundry, I find we are more same than different.

Mothers worry about their children. Children need to be kept from shirking their homework or being disrespectful. Money needs to be spent wisely. Neighbors enjoy chatting and sharing life, their children running the neighborhood streets in their play. Students feel insecure about presenting their work. Parents smile proudly and take pictures of their children’s performances. Those who are popular ostracize those who are less. Any form of organized religion struggles with bureaucracy. People try to use guilt as a motivational tool. Hearts grumble at what they consider an inconvenience.

No matter where we come from, we all have reasons to laugh, reasons to cry. We all struggle with fears, insecurities. We can all choose to be discontent or grateful. We all feel the pain of losing a loved one. We all dream, have things we want out of life. And whether we know it or not, we all have a need for God. Essentially, we are all human.

There are moments I forget that I am in India. Tonight I was at a children’s program that could’ve happened in America… almost. But the differences are becoming so familiar I only barely notice. Ironically, it is usually when I see another foreigner with white skin that I am reminded the rich brown tones of skin surrounding me are not the ‘normal’ I was born seeing. It makes me wish I could lie out in the sun long enough that my skin would also retain such warmth and color.

The sameness of human needs presses me to remember the steadfast presence of my God. As I look towards leaving India in only four short weeks, I can only find comfort in reminding myself that there is nothing about Indian culture that can make the sweetness of God’s presence in my life any more or any less. He will be the same wherever my feet are lead to journey, whatever season he carries me towards. As long as there are human hearts there will always be needs. There will always be life pressing forward. The only thing to keep me from finding it will be myself if I allow my heart to grumble.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Finding Family

Right now I'm staying with an Indian family for a change. I'm sure I'll have at least slightly more profound things to say later, but for now suffice to say that I'm learning how to cook Indian food, playing with children that could be my siblings but with darker skin, knitting hearts with an Indian wife and mother, and making myself at home. I'm enjoying the kilometer walk to campus every day, sharing my foreign toothpaste with two curious children, and joining our hearts in prayer each night. It feels good to be welcomed, loved, expected and cared for. Thank you Abba for families, for India, for dusty streets and night traffic, for smiles, laughter and chapatti with paneer. Thank for your presence and the privilege to stay and savor these four more weeks.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Writer's Fears

Sometimes I worry about myself as a writer. I worry that I might not have what it takes to be one. I fear that I lack the needed feeling of being driven to my keyboard every day, or that I will feel the compulsion but lack the discipline to make it happen. I am afraid that busyness will be my fatal enemy. I chew my lip over the thought that surely a real writer would not be so easily pulled away from her stories for several weeks by a mere sixty-hour workweek combined with a foreign culture and exhaustion. I worry that I might be some half-version of a writer that true writers would laugh at or cluck their tongues.

A few days ago, God decided I would never properly slow down on my own so he sent me the biggest doozy of a cold that left me utterly useless, trying to cough up a lung in my bed for the weekend. It is impossible to become dehydrated through one’s nose. Believe me, I know. If it was possible I would’ve achieved it by last night. The upside of all of this was that I stayed in one place for over 48 hours, and, despite the misery, once I had slept and listened and read myself into utter restlessness, the writer within me reawakened and got back to work.

Don’t get ahead of yourselves. I haven’t finished a novel or anything. I didn’t even finish a new story, just managed to rework an old one. However, I did make a discovery, or at least clarified something I already knew: I am a writer. I have to be one because the days I feel most fulfilled and content when I go to sleep at night are the days I’ve had a good long listen with the father and the days I’ve managed to write at least something. The days I manage to do both—my sleep is especially good those nights.

I may not be the best writer. I may never produce the amount of pages or stories a good writer is supposed to produce. I may never be anthologized or remembered after my death, but I am a writer. You don’t have to understand, but that last part is all that’s really important, and I suppose I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to find the best way to push the world out of my room long enough to get words on paper. Last month India got the best of me, but at least for today the writer has won.